CSR For Startups: 3 Tips For Early ROI

It’s never too early for your startup to start thinking about corporate social responsibility. Eric tells you why, and shares a few tips from some innovative newbies—Breather, FITVO, and Yoppie.


Do you think your company is too young or scrappy to invest in “do-gooder” programs? It is an unfortunately common misconception that social responsibility activities should wait until your company or product is at least generating sustainable revenue. After all, that early capital is for plain old growth, right?


A solid body of evidence suggests companies that invest in social responsibility tend to perform better financially. (Look no further than this study from Kellogg.)

To find value in CSR, start with your employees—especially millennials. A recent study by Cone Communication found that 62 percent are willing to take a pay cut to work for a responsible company. Plus, positively engaged employees tend to stay longer and are more productive, leading to additional cost savings.

A similar story is true for your customers—you guessed it, especially millennial customers. This generation already spends $200 billion every year. Where will that spending power go? To brands and companies that take social responsibility seriously. Did you know that more than 9 in 10 millennials are likely to switch to a brand associated with a cause?

In today’s business environment, you shouldn’t be thinking of CSR as a one-way street. It’s multi-faceted, and it’s about more effective and efficient employees, more loyal and engaged customers, and better overall financial performance.

You don’t need a corporate foundation—or even dedicated resources—to do this well. Cause marketing can be an effective, low-cost activity for early-stage companies, or as part of new product launches, to propel a social responsibility strategy.

Here are 3 things all startups should consider in their approach to corporate social responsibility:

    1. Seek strategic partners, not vendors.

    Breather, FITVO, and Your Happy Period are great examples of hot startups taking this to heart.

    Called the “Uber for private workspaces,” Breather lets you unlock private spaces on-the-go and on-demand where you can work, meet, and relax. For every full-day reservation made last holiday season, Breather donated $50 to social good projects through GlobalGiving. For its cause marketing, the young company collaborated with GlobalGiving to develop a co-branded landing page and an attention-grabbing promotional strategy for social media.

    FITVO is a young, e-commerce company that sells high-performance athleisure. Alongside its products, the company also maintains a robust brand ambassador program which aims to empower people all over the world to be in their best physical shape. FITVO gives a percentage of every sale to nonprofit partners through GlobalGiving. We are both a technical and creative partner, helping FITVO craft a plan to introduce customers to its “Social Fitness” program.

    Your Happy Period, or “Yoppie,” is a UK-based startup disrupting what could be a $43 billion market by 2022: sanitary products. Their subscription-based box delivery of organic tampons and pads—with a fully disclosed list of ingredients—is growing rapidly. For every month you use Yoppie, the company will donate a month’s supply of sanitary pads, underwear, and reproductive health education to a girl in need. The company looked to GlobalGiving to develop a portfolio of nonprofits to partner with for the campaign.

    For startups with limited resources, it’s crucial to avoid vendors that will never give your growing company the TLC it needs in its early days.

    2. Match your brand with a cause.

    A strong parallel between your brand and your chosen cause is vital for the success of any CSR campaign. A staggering 65 percent of consumers are unable to make sense of a business or brand’s social responsibility programs—and you don’t want to fall into that trap. A close coupling of brand and cause will make it easier for your audience to understand your values, and, therefore, more willing to engage.

    One of Breather’s primary causes for its holiday campaign was homelessness. It makes sense given Breather is a company that provides access to safe and secure physical spaces. FITVO sells stylish athletic apparel; so, naturally, the company has chosen to support projects that leverage sports for social impact. Their contributions are funding projects as diverse as a basketball clinic in Nigeria to a track team in Thailand. Your Happy Period’s organic tampon products fits well with their commitment to give a month’s supply of sanitary pads, underwear, and reproductive health education, to a girl in need.

    3. Measure to learn, not just to prove your impact.

    The important thing here is not to measure just to publish the results; instead, measure for the sake of feedback so your next cause marketing campaign will be data-driven and more effective. (We call this, “Listen, act, learn. Repeat.”)

    Made possible by the co-branded landing page, Breather is using tracking links to monitor where users come from and where they go. This provides an opportunity to establish evidence that the campaign was effective—that it inspired people to use Breather for a meeting space because it would also help at-risk populations.

    FITVO not only calculates the percentage of sales they donate to their nonprofit sports-related projects, but they’re actively leveraging their community of brand ambassadors to push their cause marketing. This means they’re gathering not only financial data about their impact, but social data, as well. Your Happy Period uses the Sustainable Development Goals as a way to benchmark their impact. The goals also provide the company a way to tie their emerging social responsibility work with a larger (arguably the largest) impact strategy, involving private, public, and civil society.

Breather, Fitvo, and Your Happy Period are just a few examples of great, early-stage companies GlobalGiving has worked with to power low-overhead, meaningful customer engagement. Whether your company is 1-day-old or 101 days old, somewhere in between or not yet started, it’s never too early to start thinking about CSR.

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Featured Banner Photo: Long-term Initiatives for Typhoon Haiyan Survivors, a GlobalGiving Project by Children's Joy Foundation

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